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340 W. 57th Street, 12B, New York, NY 10019

Jerry Bowles
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Managing Editor:
David Salvage

Contributing Editors:

Galen H. Brown
Evan Johnson
Ian Moss
Lanier Sammons
Deborah Kravetz
Eric C. Reda
Christian Hertzog
(San Diego)
Jerry Zinser
(Los Angeles)

Web & Wiki Master:
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Latest Posts

Love and Cow Bells
Sorceress of the New Piano
Well, That Was Fun
Naxos Dreaming
Reich@70: Let the Celebrations Begin
The Bi-Coastal Jefferson Friedman
Violins Invade Indianapolis
John Cage (born Los Angeles, 5 September 1912; died New York, 12 August 1992).
The People United Will Never Be Divided
Attention Sequenza21 Shoppers


Record companies, artists and publicists are invited to submit CDs to be considered for review. Send to: Jerry Bowles, Editor, Sequenza 21, 340 W. 57th Street, 12B, New York, NY 10019

Saturday, May 06, 2006
Regarding Ben Johnston

My copy of the new CD containing Ben Johnston's String Quartets 2, 3, 4, and 9 arrived today (New World 80637-2). Suffice it to say, it was well worth the wait. I had been present back in 2002 when the musicians who now comprise the Kepler String Quartet gave the premiere of Ben's 10th String Quartet; a year or so later, I heard the same musicians give an equally stunning performance of quartet #9. So I was looking forward to the prospect of them committing all ten quartets to recording.

The quartets present can be divided into two pairs. The 4th and the 9th are more immediately approachable, and probably most representative of the majority of the quartets. The second and the third are more abstract (the second particularly so), although from a harmonic standpoint, they are less complex than the later works. But all are beautiful, well-crafted works deserving wider recognition.

What is the high point of the disc, you may ask? A hard question to answer, as each piece is so distinct in its own way. Do I pick the fourth string quartet, based on the hymn-tune Amazing Grace, and possibly Ben's best-known work? Or the sly classicism of the 9th? Or the unique atmosphere of the 3rd? Or the rugged complexity of the 2nd? Each is its own high-point, distinct and difficult to compare--apples and oranges? More like an apple, a carrot, a tree, and a stone monolith.

If I could be allowed one quibble, it is the choice of pieces on this CD. Three of the four quartets presented here have been recorded on previous occasions. Now, the question of splitting the third and fourth onto two discs is ridiculous, as the composer (and this listener for that matter) consider them linked together, but it might have been a (slightly) more interesting program if the pieces had covered a wider time-frame. But this is only one small quibble.

There are plans to record the remaining 6 string quartets; it is hoped that room might also be found for Johnston's two works for voice and string quartet/ quintet, or perhaps the two Sonatas (one for 2 violins, the other for violin and cello). At the same time, the difficulty of these pieces required over three years to get these pieces learned and committed to CD. Let us pray there is a learning curve to these pieces.
Positively Sixth Street

For reasons too mercantile to go into I found myself in Austin, "the live music capital of the world," on Wednesday night and wandered over to the parking lot of the new Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum to hear a revue of best of Austin's music performers doing a private gig for delegates to the World Congress on Information Technology (don't ask). The program was put together by the versatile Stephen Bruton, who also emceed, sang and played lead guitar with most of the other acts. Like most revues that try to cover everything in one big musical orgy, the evening was a mixed bag and went on too long with many of patrons stumbling away for some shuteye and quiet barbeque digestion by the third hour--at which point Joe Ely, James McMurtry and Pinetop Perkins had yet to appear. I left after my fave Lou Ann Barton performed only a couple of numbers. (Terry Allen did only one.)

It was fun but I would rather have had an evening of just Lou Ann or Carolyn Wonderland (the red head in the picture above, with Stephen Bruton on guitar). Wonderland has a Janis Joplin-type of voice housed in a 100-pound body and plays a mean blues guitar to boot. I also really dug the great accordian player Joel Guzman and his singing partner Sarah Fox who perform great Mexican music together as Astex. Espanol no esta problema en Austin. There was even a string quartet called Tosca, composed of four comely lasses who played some more than credible Astor Piazzolla.

As always, the most gifted musicians were in the house band, especially drummer Brannen Temple and trumpter Ephraim Owens. This kid has dazzling chops.

Maybe this is just my still undigested pig sandwich talking, but despite having a great and lively music scene you can't help thinking that Austin is still Triple A; Nashville remains the "show." Finally, I didn't have time to visit the Stevie Ray Vaughan Memorial but that gives me an excuse to go back sometime.

p.s. For those of you in West Michigan, you can hear Christina Fong on WBLV (90.3) today at 3pm or you can listen via the internet here. Christina will be talking about Philip Glass's overriding concern for popular subject matter, authors and collaborators from 1983-1988, a period during which he started writing for the standard orchestra while at the same time changing the characteristics of his own electronic
Last Night in L.A. - Cage's Prepared Piano

Susan Svrcek performed the complete Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano (1946-1948) by John Cage in the end-of-the-season PianoSpheres concert last night. I had not heard this before; it's never been on a concert program I attended, and no one had pointed me in the direction of a recording. This was my loss. This was beautiful music, reminding you that this was the same composer who wrote In a Landscape; here was another landscape, only it was in Bali and the solo piano was part of a gamelan. I was so interested in the music and the ensemble of sounds that after getting home I immediately downloaded one of the three sets available on iTunes.

While driving home after listening to Svrcek, my wife and I were talking about other possible interpretations of the music. The set I downloaded, by Giancarlo Cardini is markedly different. First of all, it is faster, taking 60 minutes while Svrcek took 72; the recording is more assertive, while Svrcek is much more lyrical, forming long lines that vary in dynamics with the repeats. The two prepared pianos sound very different, and not just from the close miking for the recording; Svrcek's program notes talks about the challenges of taking Cage's long set of preparation instructions and having to do some trial and error to have the alterations match the piano and still create the desired tones. She succeeded in her re-creation. I wish I had a recording of Susan Svrcek's performance last night; I'd buy several, and send some to friends and family. Well, in some future year, such a performance would be available a week later in a legal download.

Speaking of downloads, last week's concert of the LA Phil was recorded and will be available on iTunes next week. The program includes Lutoslawski's Fourth Symphony, another Phil centerpiece, a work written for the Philharmonic and Salonen. Salonen placed the Lutoslawski as the center of a Beethoven set, beginning with the Leonora and ending with the Fifth Symphony. If you haven't heard the Lutoslawski, this is the best opportunity around.
Your Boosey and Hawkes Quiz

I recently purchased the score for Music for 18 Musicians. On the back, Boosey lists their roster of contemporary and semi-contemporary composers. And, man, there are a bunch I've never even heard of. Do we know anything worthwhile about the following folks?

Irwin Bazelon
Gottfried von Einem
Howard Ferguson
Robert Gerhard
Detlev Glanert
Pavel Haas
York Holler
Gideon Klein
Graeme Koehne
Jonathan Lloyd
Richard Mills
Helmut Oehring
Malcolm Williamson

Also I attended the ACO concert last night at Carnegie. On the program were works by Brian Current, Derek Bermel, and Stephen Paulus. The unquestionable highlight of the evening, however, was Kristin Kuster's "Myrrha," a lush and visceral work for orchestra and amplified voices based on Ovid's Metamorphoses. Let's hope it finds its way to recording-dom soon.
The Stars at Night Are Big and Bright

I'm just getting ready to shove off for a quick business trip. Back on Friday. If you're looking for me tonight at around 8 pm, try the Lone Star Plaza. I'll be the old dude groovin' to Lou Ann Barton and Terry Allen and James McMurtry. (Not to mention Stephen Barber & the Tosca String Quartet). Meanwhile, talk amongst yourselves. Here's a topic from Frank J. Oteri--selling out.
Steve Reich, Composer of the Month

I just saw the April issue of BBC Music Magazine, and their composer of the month is Steve Reich! I don't think any readers here will glean anything from the article, but the caricature of him (in baseball cap, natch) is great. If you go here and squint at the lower right hand corner of the cover, you can get a sense of the caricature:

It's great to see a living American composer as BBC Music Magazine Composer of the Month (usually they're dead Europeans).

Within the magazine, the results of the first BBC Music MAgazine awards: Best premiere recording, Magnus Lindberg's Clarinet Concerto (I just bought this last week, and man does it cook!); Best DVD performance, the Finnish National Opera production of L'Amour de Loin.
Last Night in L.A. - Formenti's Homage to Monday Evening Concerts

Last night was a farewell to Monday Evening Concerts as we have known them. It was also the announcement of the first three events of Monday Evening Concerts as they will be. We look back with fondness and some very good memories. We look forward with some trepidation.

Yes, the focus of Monday Evening Concerts of the future should be on the composer and on the music, but I hope the committee planning for the future resolves to do bring back Marino Formenti on a regular basis. Certainly they will do so if they pay attention to the attendance figures; once again, Formenti brought out the largest audience in the past four years. But Formenti is not merely an audience draw, too easily achieved through flashy performance: he offers the most thoughtful and stimulating programs, with outstanding technique, played with the highest level of musicality. He possesses the amazing talent of so understanding the music he plays that he communicates the soul of the work to his audience. When you hear Formenti play a piece you feel you have heard what the work is supposed to sound like; you feel you have heard what the music was trying to say.

Formenti has some ideas on how to re-invigorate the concert-going experience that he wanted to apply. Feeling that most concerts offer a passive, uninvolved feeling among attendees as they travel from work to sleep, he wanted to break a program into smaller units and to provide for social interactions, and refreshment, during longer intermissions. According to his web site, he will try 8-hour events at concerts in Vienna and Berlin. Ours was almost 5 hours, beginning at 7 and ending close to midnight. I would have enjoyed the idea more had this been the end of a week rather than the beginning, but it was interesting to experience. Formenti divided the concert into five components, the third of which was outdoors. Intermissions were designed to bring the audience out of the concert hall into the museum atrium, first for crudite and wine, then for optional supper, finally for complimentary dessert and coffee. The outdoor component of the program followed dinner as part of that intermission; the idea was great, with two works by Cage and one by Nam June Paik, but the location and its acoustics and sightlines didn�t support the idea. Not all ideas work out.

The first and fourth components of the concert contained works performed on Monday Evenings: Ives, Cowell, Schoenberg, Stravinsky and Bartok in the first set; Carter, Stalvey, Boulez, Stockhausen, and Nancarrow in the more demanding fourth set which included some spectacular playing. The second component comprised three recent works from Europe: Salvatore Sciarrino�s Notturno No. 1, Vadim Karassikov�s Factor Space for solo piano; Matthias Pintscher�s Monumento 1 � Hommage � Rimbaud. I liked the Sciarrino best. The final component was one work: Morton Feldman�s Palais de Mari (1986), his great summing-up of pianistic contemplation.

The three scheduled concerts for next season, beginning in February 2007, will be in Zipper Hall of the Colburn School, across the street from Disney Hall. This is a much better venue for music than the multi-purpose auditorium at the museum. Salonen, Steven Stucky, and Kent Nagano have agreed to establish the programs for these three concerts. A fourth concert will be a tribute to Dorrance Stalvey, our late leader of the Monday Evening Concerts at LACMA
I Would Not Feel So All Alone

Speaking of the Stone (or is that so last week?), John Zorn's hot spot launches tonight a month-long tribute to free-form guitarist Derek Bailey, who died in December. Zorn will do a set tonight with visual artist and experimental turntablist Christian Marclay and later cellist Erik Friedlander will team up with Ikue Mori's computer-generated electronic manipulation for some mind-bending sounds. The Bailey tributes run throughout this month, with a separate admission charge for each night's set. The Stone is inconveniently located at the NW corner of 2nd Street and Avenue C. Showtimes are 8 & 10pm and admission is 10 bucks. If anybody goes, give us a report tomorrow.

p.s. Ignore my Good Vibrations post below. David Toub started the same conversation over on the Composers Forum page.
Good Vibrations

Glenn Freeman writes:

Check this out!

"The music of the 20th century was a necessary step in our evolution.
Now that we know what negative music is, and once we realize what
positive music really is, then we can achieve a balance." -- Don
Robertson (from the "Positive Music" website)

There is a whole series of writings on this idea, written below ...

... certainly someone should take this issue up on Sequenza21.
Okay, somebody just did. My idea of negative music is music used to stir tribalism, nationalism, sexism, racism, religious differences, violence, and other pathologies associated with excessive emotional fervor and an abandonment of reason.

So I just spent most of the day horsing around making a new music blognoggle, which is a word I invented for collections of blog feeds on a specific topic. Blognoggle|New Music now joins Blognoggle|Politics and Blognoggle|Business on my calvacade of website greatest hits. Anyone classy enough to be a Sequenza21 reader and have their own blog is automatically one of the Top 100 so if I missed you it's because I forgot or couldn't find the address for your RSS feed. Only the latest entries show but if you check a couple of times and don't see your blog, send me a note (with the address of the RSS or Atom feed) and I'll put you in the mix.

You could, of course, build your own blognoggle at Bloglines or download an RSS reader but it turns out the percentage of people who bother doing that is relatively small considering how many web users there are. My theory is that most people would rather have someone else select some interesting blogs on a topic they're interested in and display them on a simple page they can check in once in awhile. We'll see if I'm right.

In any event, congratulations to those of you who are now proud owners of blognoggle Top 100 New Music Blogs. Feel free to save the handsome gif above and put it on your site and don't forget to link it back to
For O, For O, Sir Harrison will not be Forgot

The University of California, San Diego Music Department presented an all-Birtwistle program Wednesday evening: The Axe Manual (Aleck Karis, piano, and Steve Schick, percussion), Harrison's Clocks (Aleck Karis) and the wonderfully compelling For O, For O, the Hobby Horse is Forgot (red fish blue fish). Fantastic music, terrific performances; here's an excerpt from my review:

Schick and Karis displayed their chops in The Axe Manual, and the excellent musical results were no doubt due to a lot of time spent in the woodshed.
I swear, that's the only joke, so now you're prepared for the worst. Read the review here.

Now when is an American opera company going to perform The Mask of Orpheus or Gawain?
Big City Taking a Nap

The Grand Rapids Press has a long profile of our friend and blogger Christina Fong in today's paper. Check it out.

Today's Google quote of the day: "No opera plot can be sensible, for people do not sing when they are feeling sensible." - WH Auden


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